WARNING: This article contains spoilers for DS9's "Playing God". If you feel like playing God yourself and skipping over articles at will, avoid this one unless you like spoilers.
In brief: two of the main elements are weak, but the incidentals are mostly marvelous.
"Playing God" was a very curious combination of things. It had some of the best work Terry Farrell's done in a long time in places, and generally good work from all the regulars. On the other hand, the "cosmic" plot was about as weak as they come, and the main guest star could have used some work as well.
Let's start with Geoffrey Blake, who played Arjin. I realize that the character was, in many ways, supposed to be detached and a little annoying, but Blake mostly just seemed flat. The early Dax/Arjin scenes should have
been among the high points of the story, given that their relationship was a focal element; instead, they're the ones that had me looking at my watch. That's too bad, because the issue of how Dax can do what's best for Arjin is an interesting one to explore, and one that probably struck home for any grad student or ex-grad student. Granted, the parallels aren't 100% effective, but they work well enough for my purposes.
As I also said, though, many of the incidentals in the show were just flat-out wonderful. There was lots of humor in "Playing God", but none of it forced; it all flowed right out of the characters or the situations and made
perfect sense. I particularly liked Sisko's line when he heard about the vole problem: "Phasers on stun, Mr. O'Brien. I want those voles taken alive.", with a big grin on his face saying "I can't believe he's so worked
up about this."
Other humorous elements worked well also. For instance:
-- Quark running into the sonic disruptor and being affected was a scream. I half expected Kira to say "hey, it gets rid of Quark and the voles? Definitely do it, Chief!" :-)
-- Arjin's (and our) misplaced call about what Dax's wrestling coach was really there for in the top of the first act. That was played with more subtlety than 90% of the Trek humor I've ever seen [subtle enough that I'm
betting some people missed it entirely :-) ]
-- Bashir sending O'Brien the solution that "worked in Hamlin" was brilliant.
-- Sisko and Jake about the Dabo girl. This worked a lot better as a father/son issue than the end of the "not wanting to join Starfleet" issue last time around. Even though some of the lines seemed stock, they worked,
and the two played off each other very well.
-- Quark's attempt to cheer Arjin up with his own sob story.
It's little bits like that that will keep me watching this show even in the face of plots far worse than what we had here.
The Dax/Arjin plot was, on the whole, quite nice. Dax's realization that being too kind to Arjin was just as big a disservice to him as being cruel was a necessary one, but one that it made sense for her not to have made yet, at least as Jadzia Dax. We also got a real sense of how much crosstalk there is between host and symbiont, which I found very interesting. Before, it's been said on-screen that Jadzia Dax doesn't really know who she is
yet; but this was one of the few times that we really got to see it flat-out. Very strong.
The execution of the plot was a little shaky, though. Besides the problems Blake had with Arjin much of the time, I thought some of the scenes rang very false. Dax's whole speech about "I'm still mostly an initiate myself", for instance, felt scripted, not heartfelt. (On the other hand, maybe Dax was insecure enough about her position that she did script it ahead of time and planned to say it. Hmm.) Similarly, there were one or two times where I got the feeling Farrell blew a line, particularly at the very end: "I'm not like I expected" had the emphasis really misplaced.
The highlight of that plot, though, was the Sisko/Dax scene. Again, we're often told more about their friendship than we get to see; here, we got to see it, in spades. Given that Curzon Dax took Sisko under his wing and
helped him realize a lot of hard truths, it was simply fascinating to see Sisko do the same thing to Jadzia Dax. (Curzon's sense of irony must have been amused by all of that. :-) ) Brooks, in fact, had one of his best performances all season. Well done.
Then, there's the "proto-universe" plot. I'm a little less sanguine about this one, though not too down on it. Most of my problem here was that the whole thing was a foregone conclusion -- of course they weren't going to
destroy it, and of course they weren't in any danger going through the wormhole. That tends to kill any sense of wonder or suspense.
However, the slight debate over whether to destroy it or not worked for me. At first it seemed a little unfair to set it up as Kira vs. everyone, but then it began to make sense to me. Starfleet officers, as we all know, are perfectly moral and would never want to destroy it :-), and Odo as an unknown life himself would never want to do it either. Kira, on the other hand, is about as provincial as any of DS9's regulars get, and given Bajor's treatment by the Cardassians is probably a trifle xenophobic. Anything that is a threat to Bajor would therefore have to be removed, regardless of consequences. I certainly don't agree with her, but I liked seeing it a great deal.
I also liked, very much, Sisko's personal log trying to figure out what to do. He may have a slightly heightened sense of the dramatic, but his memories of the Borg were entirely appropriate for this issue. Granted, if he'd voiced them to Kira she might have shot him down for a number of reasons (self-defense being high among them), but to himself, given his experience with the Borg, the image of being perceived by the other universe as a new and more drastic Locutus must have been searing. Nicely, nicely done.
The "return the universe" scene, however, got old real fast. First of all, the sudden danger of these "verteron nodes" that we've never seen or heard of before in the entire series is a major handwave. Second of all, we've seen something like that done before -- in "Booby Trap" and "In Theory" on TNG, just to name two. Between that and the lack of suspense, I really wasn't impressed here. (Besides, I have to wonder if now that it's begun to expand, they even could get it back where they found it.)
[That scene did have some very nice effects, though; kudos to the art department.]
That's about it. "Playing God" was pleasant, and worth watching at least once -- but it certainly wasn't all it could have been.
So, some shorter takes:
-- "It's the expansion pattern of a universe." Excuse me, but just how can the computer know that? How many universes do we have to draw a sample size from? Sheesh.
-- On the other hand, I could buy the "localized entropy decrease ---> life" conclusion. It's a bit of a reach, but not much of one.
-- I found it very intriguing that Jadzia referred to her pre-joined self in the third person when talking to Arjin.
-- Three cheers for the Klingon chef, back again. This time he got to be in a better show than "Melora", too. :-)
-- Speaking of which, in that scene, when Dax warned Arjin that if he didn't define his own goals, "the symbiont will overwhelm your personality", I'm sure I wasn't the only one to respond "my what?" for Arjin. ;-)
-- When Arjin told Dax at the very end, "I know what I have to do", I was expecting him to do something very drastic, based on the TNG that aired this past week as well. :-)
That would seem to be that. So, wrapping up:
Plot: Good on Dax/Arjin, half-and-half on the proto-universe.
Plot Handling: A bit slow at times, but mostly very snappy.
Characterization: Blake needed help as Arjin, but the rest was good. Sisko in particular was very nice, as was Dax.
OVERALL: 8. Pretty nice, overall.
NEXT WEEK: A flashback rerun to last season's "Captive Pursuit". Enjoy!
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"May the Prophets guide you."